12 de febrero 1922-2 de septiembre 2021

On Monday mornings at the San Ignacio University Hospital in Bogotá, I could see the scratched and polished hands of Professor Ernesto Bustamante. He had spent the weekend at his farm on the outskirts of Bogotá taking care of his rose cultivation, those flowers that, when born in Colombia, are the most desired in the world, despite their thorns that accidentally injure the hands of those who protect them with expertise and zeal.

Through the years we got used to seeing the skillful and docile hands of the Master abused by one of his great passions, which at the same time filled him with positive energy, love, a moving spirit of gratitude, respect and inspiration. I think that the symbolic language of generosity is teaching, the detachment of knowledge from a teacher to transfer it to his students, hoping that they will surpass it and fly even higher. I was fortunate to have the best by my side for two and a half decades.

Ernesto Bustamante traveled from Medellín to train with the Latin American pioneer, Alfonso Asenjo. Under his tutelage, he arrived in Santiago where he began his training in Neurosurgery. Asenjo recognized the inquisitive clinician and skilled surgeon. I try without success to imagine the strict face of the Chilean professor scrutinizing the facial expressions and gestures of Maestro Bustamante, who silently questioned the cobwebs of the neurological semiology of the patient under study.

In Santiago de Chile he met Jeanne, who quickly captivated him with her charm. Surely, she told him the legend of the ancestral love of Hues and Copihue, who gave birth to the national flower of their country under the romantic waters of a lagoon, because it was precisely in that mythical place that they decided to return to Colombia and establish their home in Medellín. Five children were the blessing of Ernesto and Jeanne.

The academic career of Doctor Bustamante began at the University of Antioquia, with the training of students and an academic production that enhanced his pedagogical vocation. He always thought that the clinic and the surgery were an indissoluble marriage and complementary couples. He waged a constant struggle to keep neurosciences in the same academic classroom. His surgeries began to penetrate the incredulous environment of the results, and as the experience enriched, new surgical proposals appeared.

The sociopolitical problems of the University of Antioquia discouraged him. Jaime Gómez González brought him to the Neurological Institute of Colombia as scientific director, and within it the brains of this discipline, currently scattered throughout the country, were produced. During the 26 years that I spent by his side, I cannot remember a single day without seeing him study. The library and the texts were his closest companions. He covered the full breadth all the union strata and gave an example of transparency in the management of collective affairs. He was the founder of the Latin America Federation of Neurosurgery and its Honorary President. He successfully organized the Latin American Congress of Neurosurgery in Medellín, among other activities.

His academic production was robust and polished, like himself. He wrote hundreds of medical articles and in twelve books he published his greatest treasures, some of them supported by the Colombian Association of Neurosurgery, which at that time we considered a kind of educational arm of the entity. At the National Academy of Medicine, he was an innovator; his world-class lectures, were unmissable. He was the first to speak with the eloquence that knowledge gives, of mirror neurons and memes. The depth of his research and writing was oceanic.

Nevertheless, we must remember man, the impressionable and sensitive human being in the face of the imaginative ideas of his children and grandchildren, and the words of gratitude of those of us who received his wisdom. Shortly after the death of his wife, I personally urged him to attend the International Symposium on Neurosurgery in Cartagena, where I presented his book, which I had the honor of writing a preface. There, I let my heart speak and used the analogy of roses, love and brain aneurysms. I was still harboring the fear that Jeanne's death would be take my teacher too. When I finished, he approached me and said: “Burgos, you almost made me cry." That was the unknown man to many of his his students, the same one who enjoyed silence, meditation, and reading, and whose reward system carried only three boxes of dopamine: his family, the roses and neurosciences.

The last years his light in the home was fading, for the ailments of age and, when the synaptic connections stopped receiving energy, the Master died. His daughter, Ana María, and his granddaughter, accompanied him with joy. In my country it is a privilege to die a natural death.

I attended the mass for the ashes of him in a surgical gown. I had completed the resection of a voluminous parasellar meningioma involving optic nerves and vessels carotids. Through the microscope, Professor Bustamante's voice guided me: “Don’t coagulate; dissect ... closer. Be careful with the choroid artery, get to the middle cerebral. Remember perforators, you have to respect them. They are the ones that mark the aftermath. Don't touch the III nerve”

I think that when a Latin American neurosurgeon dies, he leaves a small Asenjo on the mainland. When a Colombian couple travels, I will gratefully say that they left a Bustamante chromosome. Yes, my dear Professor, the one with the silent life and eloquent teachings, whom I will surely also remember whenever I see a rose. Just like every time I hear an airplane in the sky on Valentine's Day travelling to the United States, I will imagine it loaded with those 700 million stems that on that date are used by lovers in other latitudes to say: “I love you.”

Remberto Burgos de la Espriella MD

Member Colombia Academy of Medicine
Honorary President FLANC

June 2024